Visitors come to the Ambler Campus Greenhouse for the blooming of a new corpse flower.

It was the Return of the Living Corpse Flower in 3D!

That's right, it happened again! Ben Snyder, Manager of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex, completed a horticultural hat trick! Two corpse flower blooms in 2021 (Big Stinker and Little Stinker — named by one of our guests who won the naming contest); one big Diva in 2023, named because she took her sweet time getting and now a new bloom in 2024!

The new bloom, however, was a returning favorite. Big Stinker came back, grew from 28.25 inches tall to 53.5 inches tall and fully started its bloom cycle on Friday, May 24.

"The past three blooms we've had here at the Greenhouse have all been new blooms for a plant — it was the first time any of those plants in particular had flowered. The bloom this year was unique in that it was a re-bloom of one of the plants that we had in 2021," said Snyder. "Typically a giant corpse flower will take three to four years at least in between bloom cycles. This one is a bit unusual. This one decided to flower again after only one vegetative or leaf cycle so it must be very happy here."

Visitors were more than happy to get an up close and person view — and smell — of the frighteningly fragrant plant. The campus welcomed nearly 180 visitors to view the corpse flower in the short window of time available on May 24 prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

"The fun part about these plants is seeing the diversity of people that come and see and smell them. They are not just plant 'nerds' — because it is a weird plant you do have that plant 'nerd' community that of course want to come to see it — but for many people it's also a bucket list item," said Snyder. "They don't occur very often. They only bloom for 24 to 36 hours so unless you live near one, you're probably not going to get a chance to see it."

According to Snyder, the giant corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) produces the world's largest unbranched inflorescence, or flower structure. It also does an excellent job of living up to its name.

When it blooms, it will smell like rotting meat. Unlike other flowers that use their scent to attract bees and butterflies, the corpse flower sends out its eye-watering odor to attract flies and beetles.

"They can be up to seven to eight feet tall. Another thing that makes it unique is that it's endemic only to western Sumatra. It's native to a very narrow geographical range and it's not found naturally outside of that area," Snyder said. "In general when we try to predict the size of the flower, we look at the tuber size. Each time these plants go dormant, we'll measure the tuber, weigh it, see how much its grown during the last growth cycle and use that to interpret generally how large it will be when it flowers."

The bloom in 2023, Diva, was about 67.5 inches tall when it fully opened," Snyder said.

"We expected this bloom to be a bit smaller for a number of reasons. The first time this plant bloomed in 2021 it was around 57 inches so it was a little shorter to start with and since this is a rebloom and there's only been on vegetative cycle since it last bloomed it may not have been able to produce a giant, giant flower, but it was still very large nonetheless. This flower grew on average two to three inches a day."

There are a couple of factors to look at "when we're trying to determine when a corpse flower is going to bloom," said Snyder.

"One thing we look at is its growth cycle and how fast its growing each day. We do daily measurements and once it starts to slow down it can be a good indicator that it is reaching full size and a bloom may be eminent," he said. "Another feature we look for is the spathe, the outer ruffled part, starting to turn purple and starting to peel away from the central spadix."

Currently in the Greenhouse have 12 different specimens of giant corpse flowers from three different genetic lines, according to Snyder.

"This is the only one that has produced a flower right this year —we are expecting all of the others to be in vegetative cycles this year," he said. "We have some that are coming out of dormancy right now so it is a little early to tell but based on the size of the tubers we probably won't have another flower in 2024."

Having the opportunity to grow corpse flowers in a greenhouse "is unique for a couple of reasons," Snyder said.

"They are just fascinating plants to watch the growth cycle, to watch them go dormant, to watch them leaf out over and over again until eventually they produce a flower. You can talk to visitors about these plants as well even when they are not in flower," he said. "Even when they are not blooming, they still produce a 12 to 15-foot-tall leaf, which is very unusual in and of itself. We get to talk to visitors about the life cycle, about how they are endangered, how their natural environment is at risk and how we are helping with conservation."  

Snyder said many of the more interesting species in the Greenhouse collection are used by classes — Plant Physiology for example — to get up close with plants that they might otherwise never experience.

"It's an opportunity for our students and visitors to the Arboretum to see the incredible diversity of plants and their adaptations. You're not going to run into something like the Amorphophallus very often, if ever," he said. "It raises awareness of an interest in nature and the world around us. We have this wonderful collection of fascinating plants — we hope more and more people take advantage of it."

For the home gardener, Snyder said, "many of these weird plants are really quite easy to grow, it is finding them for sale that is hard."

"I think the interest in out-of-the-ordinary plants all goes back to something different, something that stands out from the rest of the greenery. They are great attention-getters — most everyone has seen a bird of paradise flower, but not many have seen a giant corpse flower," he said. "Many of these plants are tropical, or not hardy in an outdoor garden, so these would be treated as houseplants by a home gardener. Of course, the benefit would be having something your neighbor doesn't have!"

Visit Corpse Flower Central — for the latest news on the corpse flowers at Temple Ambler!